Eat Right for Healthy Skin

By Parul Kharod

We often talk about health of important organs such as the heart, brain, liver, and kidneys. But did you know that the skin is the body's largest organ? Our skin is part of the integumentary system which acts as a protective barrier between the outside and the inside of the body.

The skin accounts for about 16 percent of total body weight in an adult, and covers a surface area of approximately 22 square feet. There are different thicknesses and textures of skin on different parts of the body. For example, skin is paper-thin underneath the eyes, but is thick on the soles of the feet and palms of the hand.

It is important that we pay attention to keep our skin healthy. Older cells are constantly shed and replaced by younger ones, and a steady supply of key nutrients is essential to support this rapid growth. Food is the fuel for the body but especially for the skin. There are various vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which our skin needs to help nourish and lubricate it from the inside out. Eat the correct balance of foods and feed your skin the vital nutrients it needs.

Nutrients important for healthy skin

Vitamin C is a super antioxidant. It is needed to support the immune system and helps with skin health. Best sources of vitamin C include red and green bell peppers, strawberries, kiwi, oranges, kale, parsley, spinach and broccoli.
Zinc: This essential trace mineral is important for healing skin. Best sources include foods such as almonds, pumpkin seeds, ginger, pecan nuts, Brazil nuts and oats.
Selenium: This is another essential trace mineral needed for maintaining the elasticity and suppleness of our skins. Just two Brazil nuts supply enough selenium for the day. Other good sources include garlic and brown rice.
Omega-3 fats are needed for the repair of our skin, to maintain healthy moisture content, and for general flexibility. Healthy fats are important for the structure of each and every cell wall in our body. Good sources include walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and ground flax seeds
Vitamin A is needed for the maintenance and repair of the skin, and without sufficient amounts, the complexion can become dry, flaky and dull. Best vitamin A foods include sweet potatoes, leafy greens such as kale & spinach, melon, carrots, butternut squash, apricots and mangoes.
Vitamin E is another important antioxidant that also reduces damage done to the skin by sun exposure, environmental toxins and poor food choices. Food sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, safflower oil, almonds, spinach, prunes, peaches, hazelnuts, mangos, avocados, asparagus and cabbage. Studies have shown that vitamin E supplements can be harmful so it's always best to get it from food sources.
Fiber – Fiber rich foods act as prebiotics that feed probiotic bacteria in the gut, which helps build immunity, reduce inflammation, and helps keep the skin healthy.

Foods to eat:

• Eat a rainbow of colorful fruit and vegetables on a daily basis. Fruit and vegetables contain powerful antioxidants that help to protect skin from the cellular damage caused by free radicals.
• Eat healthy fats – nuts, seeds, avocado
• Fiber rich foods such as whole grains and pulses
• Adequate amount of water – the skin needs moisture to stay flexible. Proper hydration is needed for blood circulation and to provide nutrients to the skin cells. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water daily.

Foods to limit/avoid:

• Refined sugars and simple starches – white bread, crackers, cookies, high sugar foods such as donuts, pastries, high sugar beverages such as soda, juice, fruit punch, and other sugary foods and drinks
• Dairy products – several studies have linked milk consumption to worsening acne and eczema. Data also suggests a link between whey protein powder and acne.
• Fast food – pizza, burgers, nuggets, hot dogs, French fries, sodas and milkshakes
• Any foods you are allergic or sensitive to.

Goals:

• Eat small balanced meals at regular intervals – every 3-4 hours
• Do not skip meals or have long gaps between meals
• Eat 1-2 cups of vegetables at lunch and dinner
• Eat 1 fruit with breakfast and mid-morning/afternoon snack
• Eat 2-3 servings of high fiber carbohydrates such as whole grains and beans
• Eat 1-2 servings of nuts/seeds for healthy fat
• Include omega-3 rich foods such as walnuts and flax seeds
• Limit consumption of salt. Use herbs and spices to season foods
• Limit processed and packaged foods
• Limit high sugar foods
• Cut out all sugary beverages
• Avoid/limit dairy – choose unsweetened non-dairy milks (almond milk, soy milk)
• Avoid/limit fast food
• Drink 64 oz. water- small sips through the day.
• Regular physical activity
• Do stress relief activities such as breathing exercises, yoga, meditation or walking

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Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at parulkharod@gmail.com